Disclaimer — I’ve told this story to both family and friends, and have gotten everything from laughs, to disbelief, to “Wow, you really want this.” This really did happen, I promise.
Steve Jobs’ very famous quote of “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” certainly lives within this story, and I’d like to think this interview experience takes it to a real-life form.
Also if anyone from Google is reading this, I apologize for the bike I “borrowed.”
So, chances are, the title of this post grabbed you. It’s an interesting story for sure, entailing ~2600 miles from coast to coast, chasing a dream I’ve had since I was a freshman computer science major to work at a top tech company, or better yet, a company that creates products that people truly love and care about. It’s about a purpose for me, making an impact on what I build to better someone’s life — in my opinion, it’s what software is all about
How far would you go to chase your dream?
Surprisingly, this story all started with a photography job I have here at the student paper at WVU. Two years ago I picked up my first DSLR camera when a local Best Buy gave me — at the time, a 19 year old without a job — a credit card to finance a Canon Rebel. From there I’ve been clicking the shutter and obsessing over photography blogs ever since.
Fast forward roughly two years and a few months later and here I am, a senior in the computer science program leaving a morning class, on a bus headed home to get lunch. My phone vibrates, and it’s the GroupMe chat that all the student photographers are connected to. It’s my boss, buzzing in about an event that we need a photographer for — the West Virginia Broadband Summit, a business and tech conference discussing new broadband solutions to better the WV economy and build new business within the state. Its being held at a local hotel, and starting in 30 minutes. WV Senator Jay Rockefeller is going to be speaking, and “another guy, a Google VP I think”, my boss so eloquently put.
As soon as I read “Google VP” I pulled the cord to stop the bus at the next street and I took off running. I hit my apartment in four minutes, changed into chinos and a dress shirt, grabbing my camera bag and keys, and sprinting out the door to my car. I had my Spotify account running at the time, and so fittingly “Baba O’Riley, Teenage Wasteland” came on over bluetooth as I turned the key to start my car. If I needed any reassurance that I should take this assignment, the opening keyboard solo of that song did just that. Opportunities can come when you least expect them.
I hit the conference in 10 minutes, after breaking a few speed limits and using my very large camera setup and backstory as a ticket into the main arena. After meeting up with the writer for the story, I look up at the conference board and see as expected, the VP of Business Innovation @ Google[x], Mohammad Gawdat is speaking in 20 minutes.
Sure, I was here to get photos of the speakers for a paper, but it’s not everyday that you get to meet someone from a company like Google after growing up in West Virginia. I was pretty determined to put on the best first impression possible.
Mohammad, or as he said “Please, call me Mo” spoke about the incredible Project Loon, and showed the audience of West Virginians that Loon could solve not only connectivity problems in parts of our beloved state, but the entire planet, giving everyone on earth an internet connection. “Loon For All” was truly awesome.
After Mo was finished and a few questions were answered, the large group broke up to see the next speaker in a different area, and Mo stayed around to meet personally with people in the audience. It was sweet to see a business exec be so personable, and after I introduced myself Mo let me try on a pair of Google glass, and we took a photo. He gave me a business card, and said
“…keep in touch”.
So here I am, a senior computer science major at WVU, who after sneaking into a business conference just met a VP at Google and now has his contact info. I’ve attended hackathons, read interview books, joined every CS student organization on campus — and a photography job at a student paper is what leads me to meeting a guy like Mo. Its funny how things work out. I emailed Mo soon after, and explained a bit more of my technical experience, and of course interest in Google opportunities. He networked me to a recruiter, who then fit me for an open position, and a few days later I had a phone interview.
After the phone interview (which was for a position directly working with customers, Google products, and engineering — a complete dream come true) I soon got an invitation to fly out and interview on-site in Mountain View. I was floored. I arranged to fly out the next week, and I felt on top of the world.
When I was in high school I spent hours watching the old 240p resolution YouTube videos of the Google Campus tours like this one — And I’d be lying if I said wasn’t a factor in my decision to study CS in school. Now I was going there, and it felt pretty surreal.
Fast forward to the day of the interview — I wake up at 6 a.m. (early I know, but with the time zone fix it felt like 9 a.m.) to have a good breakfast and start some last minute reviewing. I scheduled a town car to pick me up at 8:30 sharp; my first interview wasn’t until 9:45, but I was nervous, wary of traffic, and call me a geek — but if I could plan out a few minutes to walk around the Google campus it sounded like a good plan. So 8:30 comes, and no taxi. I call the company three times, disconnected the first two tries, and then finally I get through. They forward me to the driver’s cell, and his response:
“Mr.Dobson, I’m here, and I can’t find you”.
Naturally as any nervous interviewee would, I start running the parking lot of the hotel, up and down, phone in hand as I talk to the driver. 10 minutes pass, our voices range in volume and, um “tone” when I finally get the idea to ask “What address are you at?” — He is 7 blocks in the wrong direction. Yikes, lets call it strike #1 for today. But we get it taken care of and 10 minutes later we hit the highway headed for Mountain View.
So now its 8:50. I’m in the cab, cooling off and on my way to the Googleplex.
“The cab was the worst thing to happen today, and I got it taken care of. Its only 10 miles, I’ll still be there early.”
The inner monologue is relaxing, and then I feel the cab slow down, just in time for me too look up and of course see strike #2 of the day staring me in the face.
Traffic is four lanes wide, and completely stopped for as far as I can see.
Needless to say, today isn’t going as originally planned. The minutes that go by feel like hours. Soon after, traffic is cleared, and we ride into the Googleplex at 9:30 — “Good thing I had this cab come that early” I tell myself. “15 minutes, I’m still 15 minutes early and I’m relaxed. Now it’s my time to really nail this interview.”
I walk into the building I was dropped off at, confident, and ready. I walk by a Google bike parked outside the door, and opened up my iPhone’s camera to take two pictures, one of the bike (which was just so cool), and another of the front Google sign in the courtyard.
Leaving the courtyard, I walk up to the front desk with a big smile — “Hi, I’m Cory Dobson, and I have an interview today.” “Awesome!” the receptionist replies, and looks up my name. As I’m waiting, I take a moment to take in every part of this building – Building 43 on campus, which much like the bike outside, is oozing with cool.
It was only a few seconds later that I hear a very mumbled, “uhm…uh” and I look back at the front desk. That “uhm.” sound isn’t what I wanted to hear, but certainly after this morning nothing could go more wrong. I’d already been through strikes 1 and 2 today, safe to say I should’ve expected 3 to come as well.
“Cory? Yea, you’re in the wrong building, like the really wrong building.”
Boom. Strike 3. Of course I am.
Initiate Panic Sequence in 3…2….1 WHAT!? No. You’re kidding.”
“I told the cab driver the exact address of my interview. Wait….Shit.”
It was about at that moment when I realized how good the guy, who was seven blocks away from me an hour ago, was with exact addresses. I knew he wasn’t seven blocks off this time though, I mean, I’m clearly in the Googleplex, and my interview is now in 10 minutes. ~2600 miles traveled so far, and now a few blocks of corporate offices stand in between me and this interview. I wasn’t planning on striking out today, regardless of what life decided to throw at me.
“Ok, where do I need to go? My interview is in a little over 10 minutes.” I said as calm as I can, and the Googlers at the front desk hand me a Campus map, with a dark blue pen line highlighting where I need to go, that looked something like this:
“How am I supposed to get there!?” I said during the first glance of the long blue line dragging down the page. “Um. You can make it, you can walk, just… walk fast.” she said.
So… I started running.
(The worst part is, maybe she was right, maybe I could’ve made it just running, but that wouldn’t make for a very good story would it? — Certainly not Hungry, or Foolish enough here)
I got to the edge of building 43 and 40 when I saw a security guard in a Google jacket. Franticly I started to explain my situation to him, asking if there was anyway he could get me there faster. I could quickly start to see in his eyes how he thought I was screwed (Hey, join the club man) — before he blurted out the last thing I expected to do today.
“Kid. Take that Google bike, and pedal as fast as you can.”
“WHAT!? No you don’t understand I need to be— ”
“Take that Google Bike. Now. Go.” he said as he cut me off.
So, giving him a confident nod, I threw my luggage into the front buggy, holding the map down with my notepad, tucked in my laces into the sides of my shoes, and peeled out in the multicolored bike as fast as I could. The bike I took had a bell attached to it, and I figured that might come in handy if I needed to alert any walkers of the crazed interviewee from the east coast who just now stole a bike.
I can only imagine what I must’ve looked like, pedaling and ringing my way to the first intersection between Huff Ave and Charleston Rd. Charleston Rd, that struck a chord in my mind, “Charleston” — the name of my hometown in West Virginia. Much like the keyboard solo of Teenage Wasteland did for me a few weeks prior, that road sign justified my decision to steal this bike — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
I gunned down Charleston Rd, trying to remember the directions I heard from the Googlers in building 43. “Turn here, then go straight ‘til you hit it.” played back in my mind.
“Or was that go straight then turn, or two turns, just straight? Shit.”
For a moment I didn’t feel that angry at that cab driver from earlier, as right now I couldn’t even navigate four blocks of offices, let alone a highway of California traffic.
I turned right at the next intersection onto Joaquin Rd, and as you look back at my recreated map, you can see thats when I just made my own strike 4, and I’ve got six minutes to go.
It took me less a minute to realize what I just did, and I ended up at building 45, (passing a bike rack with more Google bikes — ‘Cool!’ I thought) where I met the next Googler on this nightmare four-block quest. I frantically began to explain my situation to him as well, where I saw his face go from “Hey random kid on a Google Bike!” to “Wow…that sucks.” Right as he started to speak ( maybe he had a good idea? A question left to wonder about) we both see a white employee bus started to pull out and turn left from Joaquin onto Charleston.
“QUICK! Stop that bus!” he yelled.
And who else to do it than the WV kid on bike with — a bell. I think I pulled that bell faster than the wheels were turning, as if it anyone could possibly hear it. I wasn’t really thinking clearly at the time, but something caught the drivers eye, and the bus stopped before turning.
I grabbed my luggage from the cart, and gave the Googler at Building 45 a salute before jumping on this bus and explaining to the driver as to why “No, I don’t have an employee badge.” I explained my situation to everyone on the bus — how I got dropped off at the wrong building, stole a bike, flagged down the bus…nightmare, nightmare, etc. With disbelief in everyone’s eyes, they all collectively decided to forgo their own stops and get me to my interview. My interview that was supposed to start two minutes ago.
Late…Tardy…Gross. Horrible. Unqualified.
Every nasty adjective in the world hit my mind at that moment on the bus when I looked at my watch. 9:47, whole two minutes late. Certainly it was not that big of a deal given the circumstance, however after you just stole a bike, a bus, and retied your shoes twice from running, it’s hard to think straight. I grabbed my phone and in panic typed out an email.
I got to my correct building at 9:51, and paged my recruiter. Amazingly, I was calm. To be honest, I was a little too nervous (as any new grad interviewee would be) going into campus. However after 15 minutes from hell getting here I got any nerves out of my system, and started to admire this Google building, which much like #43, was oozing coolness.
I met my recruiter, and greeted her with a huge smile and a handshake. We began to walk to the room which I was interviewing in, and she asked:
How was your trip over?
I told my story, but left out the bike, and the running, and the panic — I did add in the employee bus ride and getting dropped off at the wrong building of course. It was a safe story for being a few minutes late.
Although I thought the interviews went great, Google didn’t continue with another after that. In the back of my mind I think perhaps they saw security footage of my bike tour — lol. I was pretty upset, but looking back on the story I think I learned a pretty great lesson from it all.
I have a dream that I’m chasing. I’ll go 2600 miles to the unknown to chase it. I’ll steal bikes and busses and run til my shoes come untied. I’ll code ‘til sunrise and forget meals— opting out for another cup of coffee. I’m hungry, and I certainly can be foolish. But that’s not going to stop me. I realized dreams are hard, and they are gonna throw you a lot of curveballs. They are going to test you when you least expect it, and you’re either gonna stop, or you’re going to keep pedaling. I’ve almost given up plenty of times, but I look back on my experiences — especially this one, and I find the motivation to keep going.
You can too.
Keeping pedaling Medium, find some humor in it all, learn from your experiences, and chase the dream. “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”